Calas: The New Orleans Breakfast Beignets Made With Rice

There is much that can be said about the Crescent City. Glittering New Orleans has been a cultural epicenter for the Southern U.S. for decades. The city has a pull on purple and green-clad partiers wanting to attend the annual Mardi Gras celebrations and on music lovers flocking to venues to experience the birthplace of jazz music, per the BBC. However, it may be New Orleans' distinctive Creole cuisine that truly makes it a special city.

According to New Orleans & Company, Creole food was created in New Orleans and showcases the blend of European, African, and Native American influence on the region, with French being the dominant one. Creole food has been passed down through generations, and routine is found within the cuisine's "rich sauces, local herbs, red ripe tomatoes, and the prominent use of seafood, caught in local waters." As per the site, common Creole dishes you may know are roux-based gumbo, shrimp creole, and redfish courtbouillon. And, don't worry. We didn't forget about dessert.

The Creole sweet calas, a rice fritter dish, is the lesser-known cousin to the French colonist-inspired beignet. However, calas arguably have a more important role in New Orleans' story.

The history of calas

According to The Spruce Eats, the origin of the dish is typically attributed to enslaved individuals from Africa's rice-growing regions, and their selling of the dish helped free them.

As NPR explained, when the French colonizers occupied modern-day Louisiana, people they enslaved were usually only given time off on Sundays. Enslaved people would attend church, and afterwards the enslaved women would walk the streets of the French Quarter selling calas, shouting, "Belle Calas! Tout chauds." While not all calas sellers were enslaved, for the ones who were, this business gave them money that would prove essential in the later part of the century. NPR notes that when the Spanish overtook control of Louisiana, they allowed enslaved people to buy their freedom. Many of the women who sold calas were able to save up their earnings and buy their own freedom, along with their families'. The outlet says that over 1,400 slaves were able to buy their freedom. However, Americans ended this option after the Louisiana Purchase.

Calas as a street food has since virtually disappeared. However many African Americans continued to make it at home, and it often makes an appearance at Mardi Gras. In recent years, some restaurants have incorporated calas back onto their menu, as per NPR.

The dish's namesake, according to The Spruce Eats, dates back to 1880, and it is derived from either one or a few African languages. One speculation is that it comes from the Nupe word "kárá." The word literally means "fried cake."

Ingredients used to make calas

Calas is a rice fritter typically made of a combination of flour, sugar, and eggs, along with yeast and rice, according to The New York Times. The batter is deep-fried creating a golden, crispy crust, while the inside is soft and spongy. The Spruce Eats notes that small pieces of the rice can often stick out around the surface. These "bits" created a even more unique crisp and lends itself to a satisfying crunch. They can be fried in any oil, but The New York Times suggests peanut oil.

According to The Spruce Eats' recipe, all-purpose flour is used in the batter, along with leftover cooked and cooled medium-grain rice, eggs, sugar, salt, and baking powder. Although, per The Spruce Eats, a yeast dough can be substituted for the baking powder. The fritters are seasoned with many sweet spices, including cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla extract, and sprinkled with confectioners' sugar when served.

How to make and eat calas

Calas fritters are typically eaten for breakfast. They are often served fresh from the oil and topped with confectioners' sugar for an extra sweet touch. They can be enjoyed alongside a piping hot cup of coffee or any other warm beverage. And luckily, they are easy to make.

As per The New York Times' recipe, cooked and cooled rice and eggs are combined in a medium bowl. Once combined, flour is added, along with the sugar, salt, and spices. If you are using baking powder, it is added in along with the other dry ingredients, as per The Spruce Eats. Then, yeast that has been dissolved into a cup of warm water is also poured into the mix. Once mixed thoroughly, the bowl is covered with a small towel and left to rise for an adequate amount of time.

After being left overnight at room temperature, oil is heated and roughly a tablespoon of batter is dropped into the hot oil. They're then fried until golden brown. They can be removed with a slotted spoon and dried on a paper towel. It is essential they are served while still hot for the ultimate calas experience.